Every parent knows that there are ups and downs to this child-rearing thing. We will always love our kids, laying down our lives if necessary, but there still are those days. Days when the messes defy logic, when the eye rolling and attitude are so bad that I have to remind myself that I wouldn’t do well in prison, and days when it’s all so overwhelming that you just want to sit down and cry. As much as we have all wanted to head to our blanket fort with a good book and a flashlight, hanging out the “Do Not Disturb” sign, that’s not usually an option.
Each child is different in so many wonderful ways, but they all have something in common; the need for some consistency and structure. This helps build trust and stability in their lives. Because my boys are adopted, they seem to need it even more than most (something hammered into us during the months of parenting classes we were required to take to foster/adopt) and I see immediate negative results when we deviate from our routines or have a break down in structure.
For example, when Jamie worked in the oilfield, he was gone two weeks and then home for two weeks. He would get home from a hitch with a touch of “Disneyland Dad Syndrome,” not enforcing rules and letting the back talk happen more. The rapid deterioration of basic manners and dropping of chores happened almost instantly and it would take me a week to get us back on track. I’m not blaming him at all, just stating my observations.
I’m trying to help my kids gain independence, but I feel like it’s my job to show them how to obtain and use it wisely. I believe that giving them household responsibilities as kids teaches them to be responsible adults. I want them to enjoy their childhood, of course, but I try to think of the end game as well.
The biggest factor for us is that the boys and I all have ADHD and our brains move a bit too fast at times. If I’m thinking about what I’m going to do after I put the laundry away, chances are I’m going to forget about the laundry and move on to the next thing. I’m like a pinball around the house, moving from job to job, but somehow getting it all done. It’s not always that easy for the boys, so I have come up with a few things to help them remember. I hope they inspire you and I’d love to hear some of the things you all have tried with success.
Here are a few ways to organize our kids’ and our lives.
1. Give everything a place to belong.
“Clean your room!” We have probably all said this a time or two, but know that this means different things to different people. In a child’s mind, it often makes sense that, if Mom can’t see it, it must be clean. Or, if I push everything into a pile over here, I’m good. Under my bed was a fantastic place to stash things when I was a kid; Voila! Clean (sorry, Mom). I learned a long time ago that everything needs a place to belong, leaving no gray area.
I labeled all of their drawers and wall hooks for easy putting away and finding things. The book shelves have labels too: coloring books here, legos here, etc. It helps them see the benefits of being organized.
I showed you the cup tower I made before and can’t stress enough how much it’s helped cut down on dishes, but it’s also the place where we keep the little important things like name tags, chore lists, any medicine, etc. Hard to miss, therefore hard to forget.
My guys are responsible for emptying the dishwasher, so I’ve even labeled drawers and hooks. They don’t need to ask me where everything goes anymore and they don’t have an excuse to shove things in any drawer they choose.
I have a laundry basket for each of them, but if I can ever teach them that it’s easier to hit the basket than collect dirty clothes from all over the room, I’ll let you know.
2. Make expectations clear and put them in writing.
My 42-yr-old post-menopausal, ADHD brain has a hard time remembering what I have to do today without writing it down, and God help me if I go to the store without a list. Young, hormonal kids saddled with tons of homework and the distractions this world sends their way aren’t much better off. Putting expectations in writing leaves no margin for error and simply helps them remember.
I created these lists for the guys to check throughout the day and I think they like them. Now every morning, instead of, “Did you do X, Y and Z?” I can just ask if they checked their lists.
It’s the path to privilege in our house. Completing your list for the day earns you TV time at night and allowance accrues. Completing the list consistently for the week can earn weekend video game time.
I used to have a larger sheet with it all on one page, but breaking it down into specific times of the day has made it less overwhelming and much easier to keep track of. The boys actually get kind of excited to grab dry erase markers and check things off.
Again, they want independence, so managing their responsibilities on their own is a great way to achieve that.
3. Have a schedule and stick to it.
I used to get a little flack and people thought I was so weird for not going out more often to weeknight or late weekend social events. If you know me, you know that even though I’m happy with my own company, I can be a bit of a social butterfly, so it wasn’t easy going into my cave. I’m not saying that life ends when you become a parent, but it does change. Dramatically, so when you get 2 boys at once dealing with childhood trauma.
Something I learned early on was that, while my kids will test me a lot, routine and consistency set them at ease. All kids benefit from routine and mine thrive under it, so yeah, we have to leave the party at 8 pm on a Friday night to be in bed by 9:30, and yes, dinner is always between 6 and 6:30 so we can be in bed by 8:30. I have schedules for the boys, but thankfully we have them memorized now.
A friend of mine was marveling at the fact that my kids are never late to school, but it’s because they know what’s expected. If you’re late, you don’t get TV, but if you’re the first one to the table, you get the easy morning jobs. Trust me, that’s not to say we don’t push our luck and that I never have to lose it in the morning, but it’s way easier than being a constant drill sergeant.
This is also a great way to teach kids the relationship between their actions and consequences or rewards. It can also make mornings a contest, and with 2 boys, everything is a competition. “First guy to the table calls what we have for breakfast” is a big deal around here.
Knowing what is expected and having that written reminder makes life easier on all of us.
4. Teach your kids the life skills they won’t learn in school.
Most of us had the advantage of Home Economics and Wood Shop classes in school, but that seems to be a thing of the past. I’ve discovered that teaching my kids things like cooking, sewing and building can be really enjoyable for all of us.
Being a perfectionist made this a challenge in the beginning. I struggle with the “if you want something done right, do it yourself” mentality, but I’m learning to coach gently and let go of the reins a little.
Andrew loves working in the kitchen and building with wood, while Daniel shines at engineering and numbers (he’ll always have a balanced checkbook). Stirring and shooting from the hip are Andrew’s favorite things, but Daniel will measure everything perfectly; if it’s one of his favorite foods, he wants to know how to make it exactly right. They take pride in learning these basic skills and it’s a nice chance for us to spend time together.
Canning, housework, animal care, lawn care, how credit cards and mortgages work, are all skills they will need later and mine love learning everything. The trick is making it not seem like work.
5. Remember to have fun.
This can be tricky for perfectionists driven to try new things every day (no names), and it’s too easy to forget. The laundry needs to be done, bills paid, dinner made…the list is endless, but all the while our kids are growing up around us.
I’ve been so busy cooking, building and writing lately that I realized my kids were getting used to me being on the move all the time. They weren’t underfoot in the kitchen or asking me to play cards or outside with them anymore. Sure, we have a few games on the weekends and family movie night, but we haven’t been connecting like we should.
Last night I decided that we were having chili dogs for dinner and I was going to meet them in the yard for some football. I was ashamed of how surprised they were to see me come out and ask to be put into the game. Their excitement warmed my heart and reminded me in an instant why I signed on for this gig. I don’t need to have a successful blog or publish a book, I wasn’t supposed to learn skills so they could brag about my cooking or building abilities and I don’t need to be able to brag about having the best mannered kids on the block. I am here because I love these kids and I’m challenged with
making them into fine young men. A big part of that requires the greatest gift I can give them; My time and My FULL attention. I’m also proud to say that I was showered with compliments like, “Wow, Mom! I thought your were worse than that!” and, “Holy cow, how did you beat me when you are kinda’ old?” High praise, indeed…sorry, didn’t mean to brag.
Try something they love, or at least pretend to be interested. Luckily, my boys are nerds too, so we can do the Comic Cons together or watch good movies together, but there are generational differences that are hard to relate to. For example, I can’t even pretend to like some of the cartoons and music out there, but I’ll try everything once.
Read something you love to them and do the voices. It’s fun and a great reminder to them that parents have personalities.
6. Take time for yourself.
But wait…didn’t you just say to give them my full attention? Yes, but it doesn’t have to be 24-7. When we forget who we are, depression can creep in, so we all need a few minutes of our own company to recharge and stay comfortable in our own skins. Take five minutes to just sit and watch the sunset or sunrise and drink a cup of coffee. Have someone watch the kids long enough for you to take a bubble bath without the knocking on the door starting the second your toe hits the water.
You are so valuable and need those moments to refresh. Keeping yourself happy and healthy if vital to the kids’ survival…I mean, vital to their well-being as well as your own. Yeah, that’s it.
Breathe. We can do this.